From heroes to zeroes

COBB Ron Shelton (18)

D'ARTAGNAN'S DAUGHTER Bertrand Tavernier (15)

JASON'S LYRIC Doug McHenry (18)

EXIT TO EDEN Garry Marshall (18)

As a young man, the greatest player that baseball ever knew had a trick (according to this movie, at least) of sharpening the spikes on the soles of his shoes just before a game, then making sure he ground them into the groins of fielders on the opposing team. He took bribes. He battered a heckler who had no hands: he was that nasty. Feted, in his dotage, in a Reno nightspot, he stepped on stage to address the adoring audience, then contrived to insult blacks, gays and Jews (those weren't, of course, the terms he used) all in one swift, well-turned sentence.

Cobb, the most interesting film of the week, is also, as is the nature of these things, the least commercial. Even in America, films about the country's national sport are a dodgy proposition (John Goodman recently bombed in Babe Ruth, another baseball biopic about Tyrus Raymond Cobb's main rival on the diamond); in Britain they're liable to strike out altogether. But Cobb is about baseball the same way Raging Bull was about boxing, which is to say, not much. The sport is a route into the heart of a wild, self-deluding, tragic protagonist. (As writer and as director, Ron Shelton seems oddly drawn to men past their prime, wallowing in failure: they pepper his work from the early comedy Best of Times to Bull Durham, Blaze and, recently, Blue Chip.)

The new film is set in 1960. Cobb is in his Seventies; he's been kicking his heels in solitary retirement for more than 30 years. Now, ailing and alone, he summons Al Stump, a successful sports writer, to his eyrie in the mountains to write his biography. It quickly becomes clear that he wants, not a Boswell, nor even a stenographer (although he intends to dictate his memoirs and has retained editorial control over the book), but a factotum, nursemaid and confidant.

As Cobb, Tommy Lee Jones seems at first miscast: he spends most of the film in wrinkly, liver-spotted make-up, but he's too young for these scenes and at the same time too old for those showing Cobb at the peak of his fame. But he sinks his teeth into the character, milking his cantankerousness for black laughs with expert timing (always waiting just a beat before delivering the final insult); his outrageous, operatic performance makes you wish this actor, typecast as a villain, were allowed more often to take a crack at comedy.

Robert Wuehl's Stump is a weak link; there's no faulting his performance, but, as a physical presence, he's a blob, a tubby loser in the Dan Ayckroyd mould. Plus his character is weak, lying first to Cobb, then to the world. The real-life Stump was involved in the film (and one wonders what he made of this not entirely flattering portrait), but it's still hard to root for him.

The temperature drops sharply in the home stretch: Cobb emerges not just as an eccentric sonovabitch but violent and even psychotic. The balance of power between the two men shifts imperceptibly away from Cobb (just as the film's centre of interest moves towards him); instead of hating him, we're invited to find him a pathetic, pitiable character. At a celebratory dinner, the guests watch a newsreel feting his life and, before his eyes (though only Cobb himself can see this) it turns into a cruel parade of his many skeletons. When his car pulls up outside his daughter's house, she draws the blind down. He becomes physically weaker; even sheds a tear, Shelton doesn't quite pull off the switch: Cobb, at the end, remains an unknown quantity. But the film contains many splendid moments along the way.

There's another ageing legend at the hub of D'Artagnan's Daughter, this time fictional: the musketeer emeritus (Philippe Noiret) plucked from retirement by his daughter, Sophie Marceau, to thwart a court cabal against the king. Marceau is a spirited swordswoman and looks terrific in breeches, but her character is sidelined for a long stretch and the relationship with Noiret remains disappointingly unformed. For a swashbuckler, the film is surprisingly wordy, often coming on like a stiffly filmed play. And much of it unfolds by night, in an opaque blue pea-soup haze.

If this seems an unusual movie to issue from Bertrand Tavernier, it may be because the original director, the 84-year-old Italian Riccardo Freda, left two days before shooting was due to begin. He had fallen ill, according to the press notes prepared for critics, although reports at the time in French newspapers suggested the real reason was friction with the actors on the set. As a result, Tavernier was obliged to start filming a project he had only intended to produce, ill-prepared and with many of the main locations still to find, which might explain the shambolic, poorly structured result.

Two complete duds. Jason's Lyric is an uneasy shotgun marriage between Vietnam trauma movie and kitsch love story. Forest Whitaker's bitter veteran blights his family and his son, years later, escapes into an affair with a fast-food waitress who plies him with quotes from John Donne and romps with him against a suite of over-coloured sunsets. Still worse is Exit to Eden, a caper comedy set in a holiday resort catering to specialist tastes, which manages to make bondage neither sexy nor funny. The writer, Anne Rice, who made such a song and dance a while back about the film of Interview with the Vampire has remained strangely silent on the subject of this turkey.

n On release from Friday

Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral